the discerning aesthete’s guide to media designed for teenage boys

The new Bond movie: I liked it! The only film in the series that it seems worthwhile to compare it to is Casino Royale, and on that score it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, Quantum of Solace‘s best parts are not as good as those of Casino Royale, if only because they don’t involve awesome footchases built around parkour. On the other hand, QoS‘s worst parts manage to avoid the inclusion of high-stakes poker tournaments run by the villain, by which point in the movie it has been established that the local police force is in Bond’s pocket so why don’t they just arrest this guy anyway?

Seriously: a poker tournament?! I can only assume that the people responsible for that decision will one day look back upon it and be as deeply ashamed as if they had written a getaway chase set on razor scooters, or a part for a villainous master-blogger, or an Aston Martin with an advanced camouflage system based on hypercolor t-shirt technology. Topicality is not the Bond series’ strong suit. Also, as evil character tics go, having an inhaler is pretty lame — particularly if it isn’t used to kill anybody.

The new movie avoided those sorts of problems, instead opting for the more commonly accepted practice of just having lots of enormous plot holes. Why are the villains eschewing petrotyranny in favor of a plot to extract a somewhat higher profit margin on municipal water in Bolivia (the dastards!)? Why was that exploding hotel built out of hydrogen, again?

But all this is well within acceptable action movie tolerances, and Daniel Craig is pretty awesome. Also: I liked the title, dammit! I must reluctantly conclude that those who disagree are just mean.


Gears of War 2 has been acquired, partly on the strength of this New Yorker profile of its lead designer, sent to me by my coworker Brian (be sure to also check out this comments-section exchange between the author and a critic, which Jason pointed out to me). It’s shaping up to be the biggest Xbox release of the holiday season. If you’d like to come find me on XBL, my gamertag is Club Loser. Let me assure you: I’m quite bad.

I realize it’s curmudgeonly of me, but I can’t help but be dismayed by this generation’s videogame franchises. Back in my day (*stretches, pats belly*) our shooters stuck to paper-thin premises that were patently ludicrous and profoundly derivative, but which provided plenty of room for awesome non-sequiturs. There’s, uh, a portal to hell on Mars? And things are coming through it? Sure, let’s go with that — Aliens was pretty awesome, right? Or hey, maybe there’s an intergalactic tournament where kidnapped fighters from all over the galaxy are brought and forced to fight for some reason? It was cool when it happened to Bruce Lee, and he didn’t even have a rocket launcher.

These days, things are a bit more homogenous and overengineered. The two biggest shooter franchises for Xbox are Halo and Gears of War. In one of them, superhumans on a distant planet are locked in a pitched battle against vaguely reptilian alien hordes driven by a crazed prophetic religion. In the other, superhumans on a distant planet are locked in a pitched battle against vaguely insectoid alien hordes who seem to feel it’s not polite to discuss religion in a social or battlefield setting.

All of this is fine. The resulting movies and novelizations are irritating in principle, but also fine so long as you avoid watching or reading them — people like making money, after all. What’s very, very irritating, though, is the compulsory delusion among the fanboy set which maintains that the settings and plots for these games are anything other than incredibly awful, derivative, sub-fanfic-level dreck, utterly unworthy of respect or serious consideration. Instead I end up reading gaming press pieces which assume that I know or care what the Pillar of Autumn is, or which include quotes from the games’ creators that say things like “we think there’s a lot more to explore in the Halo universe”. Sure! Of course! Who wouldn’t want to see what wonders await us in a fictional world that includes ideas as original as lasers and machineguns and jeeps (oh, the jeeps!). Also there’s a bunch of stuff stolen from Larry Niven, but with fewer words.

I suppose I should just avoid those articles. But I need to know about the comparative deadliness of the next rocket launcher iteration! Or which add-on maps I’m going to be forced to buy! Or the next initiative that will try (and fail) to make teenagers on Xbox Live a bit less racist and homophobic.

None of this actually diminishes my excitement at the prospect of brutalizing strangers’ avatars from the comfort of my home. There’s skill involved, the gameplay is well-tuned, and it’s thrilling to win. I just wish there were fewer pretentious narrative trappings surrounding the experience — or, if we really can’t pare things down to a minimal core of deadliness, that the narrative filigrees could be made with a sense of good humor rather than just the idiot earnestness of the hack-who-doesn’t-know-it.


Also: to put all this into perspective, I spent yesterday playing laser tag.

2 Responses to “the discerning aesthete’s guide to media designed for teenage boys”

  1. JasonT

    Seriously: a poker tournament?!

    Hey, I liked the card game. Jerk.

    In one of them, superhumans on a distant planet are locked in a pitched battle against vaguely reptilian alien hordes driven by a crazed prophetic religion. In the other, superhumans on a distant planet are locked in a pitched battle against vaguely insectoid alien hordes who seem to feel it’s not polite to discuss religion in a social or battlefield setting.

    Oh, don’t worry. The Locust find religion in this version. I’m not joking. Kantus saves!

  2. Tom

    Poker is a fine game, but at some point people are going to have to realize that it’s incredibly boring to watch. Really, it’s just ridiculously awful. This is only made worse when it’s featured in movies aimed at audiences who may not play the game, necessitating — as in Bond — having supporting character A lean over to supporting character B and provide helpful context like “he’s drawn a royal flush — that’s very good!”

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